The paradoxes of social inclusion
Social inclusion is one of a collection of quasi-concepts (social exclusion, social cohesion, social capital, among others) that political actors borrow from social scientists, and use to ascertain, and to transform the overall situation of societies. If such notions are to be of any use to sociology, they must be considerably tightened from a theoretical point of view. This cannot be achieved with an illusory search for the “real” meaning of these notions, such that definitions and distinctions would become universally applicable. We should rather focus on determining the specific conditions under which such notions can throw light on the ways in which different societies face the dilemmas of combining, for the provision of welfare, the market (with its logic of prices), the State (with its logic of rights and obligations) and civil society, especially families and communities (with their logic of giving). The paper explores two such conditions and their paradoxes. Social inclusion can be a useful concept if, first, it takes into account structured inequality; and, second, if it pays attention to the unfolding of social processes through time. Time is critical both at the individual level of life trajectories, and at the societal level, where societies constantly elaborate provisional resolutions to the dialectical contradictions between the principles of liberty, equality, and solidarity.
Ph.D. in sociology (Harvard, 1974). Professor of sociology at the Université de Montreal. Research and teaching on labour and social inequality, and on epistemology and methods. Recent work on contingent work, job quality, living arrangements of young people, family unemployment, social cohesion, and social indicators. Involved in social sciences policy making as a member of the National Statistics Council of Canada, and as Chair of the Research Data Centres National Coordination Committee, as well as in academic planning at the Université de Montreal.
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